Friday, November 22, 2013

Hidden in the Stuffing

We had a Thanksgiving luncheon yesterday for our Legacy Ministry at church. It was a joint venture. We provided the turkey and dressing and everyone else brought something to go with it. As usual, my plate was far too inadequate for the spread.

By tradition, I try a little bit of everything. So my portions end up one big pile of food.
When you eat from a pile, individual entrees lose their identity. Flavors mesh with very little distinction as to what you just forked into your mouth.

But somehow in that experience a unique flavor jumped out. It gave the wow moment. It was unique, unexpected and delightful. And I have no idea what it was and from what portion it came. All I knew was I wanted more.
Finding something you cannot define or explain makes seconds quite difficult. Grazing is forbidden at our potlucks. Nobody wants to see me going from bowl to bowl with my fork trying to find that magical dish of flavor.

But knowing it’s there, somewhere, on the table can drive you crazy. I wanted more but didn’t know how to get it.
Moments with the Lord come along like that. We’re feasting away at life when all of a sudden a flavor hits our senses. It so captivates the moment that all we can think about is how we desperately want more.

David said, “O taste and see that the LORD is good…” PS 34:8

Captured and captivated by God is more uncommon than it should be. But with an omnipresent God it shouldn’t be. He is present in all of the moments of our lives. Right now, regardless of what’s going on, He is present. Should that surprise us? Throughout the day, wherever we go, He will be present. Should that surprise us? In the evening when we close out this day and wake up to the morning, He is already there. Should that surprise us?

While we’re gulping down life, just know that there, hidden in that portion on our fork, God has placed a tasty morsel of His goodness. It is the spice of His presence in our lives. Savor it, delight in it, crave more.

It makes us realize we are hungry for something we didn't know was available.

JER 15:16 Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the
delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

From a Larry Gatlin Fan

Larry Gatlin is a remarkable man. I saw him at a men’s power luncheon yesterday. The years have left their mark but the life lived shows evidence of God’s hand on his life.

He told stories of people and places, opportunities and failures, open and closed doors—all of which he believes, now, God directed. It was obvious during the experiences he missed seeing God but afterwards, when he was in his right mind, he saw how God had guided him.

The darkest days resulted from a cocaine habit that gripped him for nearly five years. In his final crash, when he came to himself, he cried out to God. He had known the Lord all along but now he needed Him. God got him into rehab and restored his life.
As he looks back, he is grateful for the people, places, opportunities, failures, open and closed doors, because he now sees how God was faithful to him in spite of his own lack of faithfulness.

And I said, “Amen.”
God’s faithfulness never changes. He continues to work out the details of our lives that help Him accomplish what concerns us.

Through a man who has now been on both sides of the spectrum, I am renewed. I will cling to the faithfulness of God in the land of the living. I will live expectantly, depending upon His grace and His mercy. I will deny the darkness’ attempt to define my life. I will announce the goodness of God in this day.
Thanks Larry Gatlin. You have encouraged me greatly!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Are you successful or not?

How do you measure success? I watched a football game last night in which the quarterback had a highly successful night but the team lost. Success or not? I’ve watched other games where the quarterback stunk and the team still won. Success or not?

It all depends upon the criteria. Take the quarterback by himself and evaluate his performance, he did his job and did it well. He was successful. But if you add to that criteria something for which he cannot be solely responsible, even in his success he can be declared a failure.
It doesn’t seem fair to be evaluated by something we ultimately have no control over. We do our job and do it well, but someone thinks we should have done more or done things differently so they rate us lower than our performance suggests.

Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He watches our lives and ignores the ninety-eight percent good going on and points out the two percent that we struggle with. He magnifies that two percent until it overshadows the ninety-eight. In fact, he makes such a big deal out of it we forget the ninety-eight even existed.
He can make the two percent seem so important that we feel like we have failed totally.

Years ago I wrote a little poem that reminds me not to look at what Satan points out.

            I’ve never been very good at the things of life.
            I’m not always best and I don’t always win.

            But I’m loved by the one who knows the real me,
            Who blesses who I am, not who I’ve been.

God doesn’t live in my past. He’s in my present. He is interested in now, not then.
Satan lives in yesterday. His accusations are always in what I did or didn’t do. He frustrates today by reminding me of other days.

The criteria God uses is: what am I doing now. I may have blown it five seconds ago, but now, does He have my heart and my focus? If so, I’m renewed and restored. Even though I failed I’m not a failure. Because success is determined by this moment and in this moment I choose to go with God’s opinion.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I'm Not ADD

I’m not ADD. Really, I’m not. I may occasionally find myself deficit in attention, but I wouldn’t call it a disorder. I think it’s the caffeine.

What I really struggle with is the ability to be still and wait. It’s more an PDD—Patience Deficit Disorder. I tend to want things to happen a bit more quickly than later.

Waiting has always seemed like wasting time. Having to wait for someone to get ready, or waiting for a red light, or waiting for the game to start, places me in a time bog. Everything slows down when I’m waiting. Like reigning in a race horse. I’m made to run, not stroll.
You know what you call a fly with no wings? A walk. He’s not made to walk. He’s made to buzz the atmosphere. He’ll die if he can’t fly. Or at least he’ll make it easier to get swatted.

I know the feeling. I want to go, to move forward, to gather no moss. I’m a rolling stone, not a rock in a terrarium.  
But God says wait. He says so not as a punishment, but as a means by which I can move cautiously toward His will. Those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength. There is purpose in waiting. There is reward in waiting. There are provisions that only come from waiting.

What if I get to the airport too early? Do I rush into any plane fixing to take off just because my plane isn’t ready to leave? There is a destination to which I’m heading. Getting to it requires waiting until my plane is loading. I can still get someplace on another plane but who knows where that place will be.
Waiting allows for God to align the factors that make for the greater blessing. It says, “I’m trusting God, not rushing into the wind asking Him to bless me.” Waiting says, “I want what God wants.”

As a goal, we need to be where God wants us to be, when God wants us to be there, doing what God wants us to be doing, the way God wants it done. Ain’t gonna happen unless we learn to wait upon the Lord.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Trusting God is Always a Choice

I took a group of students to a wilderness camp a few weeks ago. Great trip!

Part of the experience at the camp was learning to trust. Each activity required special equipment—typically harnesses—that kept you from falling if something went wrong. Whether it was standing on top of a telephone pole and diving out to a trapeze swing fifty feet off the ground, or rappelling down the side of a sheer cliff, or climbing the face of a mountain, or zip-lining from about three thousand feet up…each person would be strapped into a harness and attached to a safety line.
It’s amazing how our self-preservation instincts kick in to tell us not to do such frightening things. That’s where the test part comes in—to see if we can overcome instinct and trust the equipment. It is quite the struggle for some.
You see, we have a list of expectations that form our comfort zone—things like: height, visibility, temperature, objects, control, people. It’s our space. Anything that threatens our space challenges our comfort. Falling probably scares us more than most other threats.

To fight the fear of falling, when in reality we cannot fall because of a harness, we have to rely on trust. I have to convince myself that the harness is trustworthy. I may slip some but I will not be hurled headlong onto the jagged rocks of a rugged ravine. The fight is in my mind. The moment says, “Jump.” My mind says, “You’re crazy.” The harness says, “I’m here.” Imagination says, “You’re gonna die.” Reality says, “You’re safe.” The person waiting behind me says, “Just do it.” Who do I trust?
When it comes to faith, both our spirit and our mind are engaged. Of the two, our mind is the hardest to convince that God can be trusted. It is so polluted by suggestions of His inadequacies that fear makes us doubt. Trusting becomes a battle. The battle is for submission of my mind. My spirit agrees but my mind controls the body. The body hears the spirit but obeys the mind.

When the mind trusts, the body will jump. When the body jumps the whole life is filled with an exhilaration reserved only for those who act upon their faith.
 PS 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ever Broken God's Heart?

I’ve disappointed myself. Here, I thought I was mature enough to handle most stuff, I have been taken down by the rebellion of one person. After many words, threats and consequences, the decision is as firm now as when it was made five months ago.

Here’s my lesson: it hurts like heck when someone deliberately turns their back on your counsel. In a very miniscule way, I sensed what God must feel when we do the same to Him.
Most of our sin is casual, something we do without giving it much thought. We say something hurtful, we punch somebody’s lights out, we yell at the driver who just cut us off. Stuff that just comes out of an uncontrolled life. But there are other things we do by not doing what is right. We turn our heads from the need of the hurting, we refuse the opportunity to share a life-changing message to a friend, we withhold our smile from someone needing to feel wanted. Stuff that comes out of an insensitive life.

 But the most serious sin is the one we plan out. The one we commit after being told how wrong it is. The one we have decided to commit all costs. The one we have sold out to. That is the most grievous sin God has to deal with. He warns, He confronts, He redirects and we go on anyway. How that must break His heart!
God, I am at a loss as to how to go on. I know how easy it is to judge others and accuse them of the very things I’ve done against You. Thank You for the mercy You gave and the love by which You restored me. May you apply the same in this case.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Biting the Hand that Feeds You

I feed two cats each day. Dippy and Buddy. Buddy likes to be scratched before he eats. I usually oblige. But when he’s done being scratched, he bites me—not hard, but just enough that I try to avoid it. Why? Because I don’t like getting bit.

Often we try to do good things for people, only to get bit in return. It’s not like we saw it coming and could have avoided it. We just get caught up in their problems, think we’re helping make a difference and they bite us. For most biters, we’re dealing with a character flaw. Somewhere in their development they found it appropriate to bite people who are trying to help them. Probably some deep hurt drives that.
Years ago, I saw a kitten crawling down our street toward the woods. He was hurt and couldn’t walk. He was going there to die. Caring me, I wanted to help, so I rushed out to pick him up. Out of his pain, he latched onto my finger and wouldn’t let go. He literally sunk his teeth into my flesh. My lesson: hurting things hurt others. Or to translate it to people: hurting people hurt people.

I don’t want to think it’s intentional, but it is a reaction I see all the time. And one I wish to avoid.
Now with Buddy, I don’t think he bites because he’s hurt. I think he just does it out of habit—something in his Siamese DNA. But if I picked up another hurting kitten, I’m pretty sure it would happen again.

Knowing that doesn’t stop us from helping, it just makes us treat them differently, often by putting on gloves. Gloves protect you but make you insensitive to them. It’s kinda hard to treat someone gently while wearing gloves.
Oh, how I wish they would just deal with the hurt and not take it out on others.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I’m having a hard time finding my joy today.

In the movie “For the Love of the Game,” Kevin Costner plays a major league pitcher in his final game, in which he just happens to pitch a perfect game. In the early innings he goes through a process to block out the distractions. He says, “Close the mechanism.” At that point everything goes silent and a clear path is established between the pitchers mound and home plate.

Late in the game, however, when he’s tired and hurting, he goes through the whole routine and nothing happens. He can no longer block out the distractions. What’s he do? He goes into muscle memory, doing what he’s done a thousand times before. Just throwing a ball to a catcher. Even with the distractions, he can still function and even function well.

There are times when we can block out the world and the cares it brings with it. We can refuse to be drug down to its level and instead keep pressing upward. We can make the pitch even when our arm is about to fall off and everyone is yelling for our defeat. How? Memory.

Memory gives us a platform from which we can stand in the midst of trials. We can look back and see how faithful God has been in the past, how impossible the situation seemed then, yet how perfectly God worked everything out. Memory allows us to gain strength to trust Him later.

Instead of falling apart, which is such an attraction, I must go on and finish the game. I’ve still got some innings left. How I feel, what I’m obsessing over, regardless of the frustration building up inside, I deny those from controlling the moment and trust God. I cannot let those stop me from completing the work God started in me.

I will not be defeated by the words, actions or dishonor of others. I know too much to allow my concerns to overwhelm me. I will pray to the God who is absolutely faithful and cast my cares upon Him. I will pour my heart out to Him, claim His purposes in my life and stand strong, knowing His peace will surround me.

I will trust in Him for wisdom and anticipate Him directing my paths. For He alone is God and able to do in exceeding abundance all that concerns me. And joy will return, maybe in the morning, but it will return.

Question: Ever been here?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wait, You Can’t Trust God?

The hardest part of faith is believing in what we cannot touch, see or feel—knowing something that rides just outside of our senses is real. We have no problem believing when we see the evidence but most of what faith demands is silent and invisiblelike bones.

We understand the fact of faith but struggle with the content. Quite often you’ll hear someone with great boldness say, “I have no problem believing, I just have a hard time trusting.” It’s as though they can separate faith into the act of believing and the act of trusting. You can’t. If we are not trusting, we do not believe. We are, in fact, disbelieving—choosing to deny or doubt what we have known to be true.

Every one of us has been brought up to be self-reliant…even by godly parents. They wanted us to be able to stand up to and withstand the tortures of life, which is very biblical, only the Bible goes on to tell us in whom and on what we are to stand. Stand firm in the Lord…stand in the grace of God…stand firm in the presence of His glory. It never tells us to be strong in our own might—in fact, just the opposite.

My strength never plays into the formula of faith. Faith requires belief and trust, which aren’t measured, enhanced or enacted by my strength. Even the man who admitted he needed help believing still got his son healed.

Joy flows from the category of faith. I can’t see it, I don’t know where it’s stored, I can’t make it come forth. All I know it’s there, as real as my next breath, and will manifest itself if I will acknowledge what interferes with it. What might that be? My lack of confidence that God is presence in my life.

This is no game. It is reality. God is present. I can trust Him to accomplish what concerns me. If I remove all doubt to His presence and activity, I will experience His joy flowing through my life. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Disappointed in God?

I read a crucial book in my spiritual foundation years ago by Phillip Yancey called Disappointment with God. I never wanted to face the fact that God’s actions had disappointed me until I realized how many memories I had stored away of when He hadn’t acted as I had wished.

Prayers that weren’t answered as I had prayed, trust that was placed in my expectations rather than in Him, solutions I thought were best that were inferior to His, plans I had made that were trumped by His decisions: all stored away in the category of disappointments--times that God didn’t act as I had expected.

Whenever a person disappoints us, we generally dismiss it. If it happens often we dismiss them. I cannot count on a person that disappoints me. Their promises mean nothing.

Whenever I have determined God isn’t trustworthy simply because He has operated differently than what I had expected, I categorize Him as unfaithful. Once I have done that, He ceases to be important in my life.

That’s why the most important words in the Model Prayer are: Thy will be done on earth as it is being done in Heaven. In Heaven God’s will is never challenged, evaluated or categorized. It is what it is. If I could ever get that perspective into my life, I could never again be disappointed in God. Whatever He did would be good for me and vital to Him for accomplishing what concerns me.

Only on earth do we challenge God’s right to be God.

Joy comes when we recognize God is faithful. I may be unfaithful but He remains faithful in all He does. Because He is faithful I must let go of my disappointments. I cannot be disappointed in God and expect joy.

Question: Is there a disappointment you find hard to let go of?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No Good Days or Bad Days – Only Days

We are so quick to evaluate our lives and set an opinion over what’s going on. If I don’t like how things went, I declare it a bad day. If I do like how things went, it’s a good day. My judgment holds final sway on the value of my day.

Only problem with that, if I can limit it to only one, is we are not in the best position to determine what is good or bad about our day. We lack perspective.

Perspective gives me context. What led up to today is as important as where tomorrow fits in. If I don’t recall yesterday, and have no clue about tomorrow, then I’m not the best one to decide if what’s going on is good or bad.

That doesn't mean I have to like what’s going on. I may even hate what’s going on. But I’m not in position to say what’s going on is bad or good.

Only God can make that call. Only He has perspective. Only He knows what this moment means in the context of our lives. Only He knows how this fits into His plan of accomplishing what concerns us. Only He knows how this turns out for good. Only He knows if this is about them or me.

My job is to trust, not judge. And definitely not to interfere. If I’m caught in the middle of something I don’t understand and anxiety is raging within me, He said to pray. When we pray, He sets up boundaries around our mind and heart to protect and provide for us while He works out His best.

And by the way, our opinion about our day doesn’t matter to Him. What matters is if we will trust Him with our day.

Question: Can you remember a day when you thought life was over and God got you through it?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Everything’s Got a Price Attached

Whether we realize it or not we prioritize our valuables. That which holds greatest worth gets our attention, time and effort. Rarely is the value measured in money.

We have junk we’ve gathered throughout the years that means nothing to nobody else but we’d be crushed if we lost it. Trinkets filled with memories of a person, a place, a moment in time. Anyone who saw it might toss it because they don’t see in it what we see.

Some of the stuff we value really is just junk, but once we put a price on it, it moves off the junk list onto the prized possession list.

I’ve seen rings people treasure that are worn, unimpressive and out of round, but Momma wore that ring. I’ve seen a chair that sinks in the seat, has worn arms and headrest, that should have been thrown out years ago but that was Daddy’s chair. I’ve seen scribbles on paper stuck to a refrigerator door that resemble nothing on this earth but some grandchild made those scribbles. Things that say nothing to us, speak volumes to somebody else.

Jesus tells of a farmer that finds a pearl in a pasture and has to buy the whole field because somebody dropped a pearl in it. It wasn’t the field that he wanted but the pearl. The field suddenly became valuable because of what he discovered in it.

God brings value into our lives in subtle and insignificant ways. No flash, no pomp, no theatrics. He just slips it in and counts on us to realize it’s there. When we realize what He’s invested in us, our lives become valuable. God doesn’t make junk and doesn’t give junk as gifts. He adds value. Like dropping a pearl in the dirt.

He has placed pearls in us, that to others may have no recognizable value, but to us they are life. Joy is one of those pearls. My joy may mean nothing to you. To me it’s priceless.

Question: Found any pearls inside you lately?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Life Sucks the Joy Right Out of You

The past few weeks have been busy. I'm in that cycle where I spend nearly all my energy throughout the day, get home with little left, go to bed and get up to do the same thing the next day. My life feels like the hamster on the wheel.

Busyness can become a great danger. It can consume us, use us up and drain us of the excitement of life. We can become so busy doing life that after a while that's all we're doing. We end up just fighting to keep up. Life becomes a drudge, a necessary job to be carried out. Where did the abundance go? Where are the promises of peace? And where’s the joy?

I enjoy aspects of Fall. The temperatures, the colors, the change. But I don’t like the leaves. All my life, it has been my job to get rid of the leaves that fall during Fall. And I can put off that job as well as anyone. A  measure of clutter doesn't bother me. I long ago decided clutter isn't sin. And having clutter doesn’t mean I don’t know where things are, just that they’re probably covered up by something less important. Like my lawn. I know that somewhere underneath all the leaves is my grass. It doesn’t go away, it just gets lost to the clutter. A few hours of raking or running the mower brings the grass back. It was there all along but just covered over by natural events and my neglect.

Busyness is my Fall. While I’m so engaged in doing life I allow stuff to cover up my Joy. It’s the clutter that builds up, gets shuffled around and ultimately blocks my connection.

Busyness is my downfall. Whenever I allow anything to become more important than the reality of God in my life, that that I declare most important will overshadow the rest. What then is relegated to the shadows, loses significance and influence over me. It is then that not caring about the clutter becomes a problem.

In all your busyness, don’t lose sight of the Treasure. Prevent the clutter from obstructing your view of the One who makes life worth living.

Question: How do you keep God in the forefront of your life?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Joy Where You Least Expect It

Don’t you hate it when someone takes a verse out of context and makes it say something it wasn’t intended to say? Well, try not to hate me too much.

Peter was writing about the condition of a man’s life when he subjects himself to false freedom and becomes enslaved to evil intentions. Like accepting a lie for the truth and building a life on the instability of that lie.

He goes on to say, “for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” We have little problem realizing what Peter is talking about—allowing our evil desires to capture us and enslave us to its power. But, though there is no question of what he means, I see another application from the life of Paul.

Paul saw his life so devoted to the Lord that the word slave, a harsh reality of people being bought and possessed by other men, could also define his connection to God. He was God’s slave. He gave away right to his own life and entrusted himself to a new Master. The parallels are quite similar.

And Paul would probably also say he had been overcome by God’s mercy and grace. His life was under the constraint of God’s love. He demonstrated in his writings he was overwhelmed by forgiveness and astonished that God would choose to use him to spread the Gospel throughout the world.

So having been overcome by the greatness of God, Paul became enslaved to God’s intentions. I think I like that. By what overcomes us, that which overwhelms our resistance to deny, we bind ourselves to in loyal obedience.

A servant who loves his master and knows his master loves him lives with a joy “freemen” can’t experience. Paul knew that. He had lived free from the restrain of God, but now found greatest fulfillment being God’s own possession.

As God’s possession, God has committed Himself to us in ways the world can never know unless and until someone out of that world gives him/herself to the Master.

Question: Do you know you are not your own but you have been bought with a price and that therefore God owns you?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Need a Hammer?

Nailing something down carries with it the thought of securing it so it will stay put. When we install a roof we nail it down do it won’t blow away. When we lay a subfloor we nail it down to provide a strong surface for a finished floor. When we’re building a deck we nail down the surface boards to provide a sturdy platform for entertaining. Nailing something down is intended to hold it in place.

Truths need to be nailed down. Since truth doesn’t change, we need to secure it into our minds so that when we need to bring it back from memory it’s right where we left it.

There are times when we need quick access to what we know. Times when someone or something is challenging our opinion and we need God’s opinion. Times like in the darkness when we can’t read Scripture or in the silence when we can’t hear voices or in the confusion when we hear too many voices--we need to know what God has told us, preparing us for this moment.

Having truth nailed down means we declare it so and have it available when our circumstances need it.

Someone said never doubt in the darkness what God has revealed to you in the light. Meaning—back in the light God gave you truth which you nailed down in your mind. Now that you are in a challenging moment use that truth, don’t doubt that truth.

Find joy in this verse: Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful. God doesn’t change. Neither does His truth. If it was true when He told us, it cannot be false at some point later. If He told us nothing can separate us from His love, how can something ever separate us? If He told us nothing can ever take us out of His hand, how can something ever take us out of His hand? If He told us He would be with us always, how can He ever not be with us always? If He told us He will accomplish what concerns us, how can He not accomplish what concerns us?

Joy comes when we accept God’s faithfulness as one of His unchanging characteristics and nail that down in our minds.

Question: Need a hammer?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Joy in Trials? You’ve got to be kidding!

There is some joy that can only come after we’ve been to hell and back. It is the joy of victory. The joy of knowing the sufficiency of God in tough times.

We typically try and isolate ourselves from distress. We want to protect ourselves from difficult situations. Watch TV news shows and after a tragedy the discussion is how can we prevent this from happening again. The short answer is we can’t. Life cannot be managed to the point we can stop bad stuff from happening.

Not far from where I grew up lived the Bubble Boy. I didn’t know that then. David had no immunity system and was placed in a sterile environment within his bedroom that kept out all the bacteria and viruses that could kill him.

He lived alone within his own bubble yet had family just outside his reach. No hugs, no kisses, no holding. But he had life.

I don’t discount living but that was no life. Life is to be embraced—good along with the bad—and however long or short it is through it we learn the power of God in our circumstances.

None of us will ever live in a bubble, but how much fear do we surround ourselves with that keeps us isolated from life. It's the what if’s that can shut us down as quickly as a real threat.

James said to consider it joy when we encounter various trials. Trials are the difficult times of life. We can’t stop them from coming. We don’t design our lives to avoid them. We expect them. And we know that going through them will produce a greater version of us than before.

I hate it when my computer decides to upgrade. It slows things down, stops my momentum and frustrates me considerably. But the upgrade is necessary to make my computer more efficient. I can probably block the upgrading but in doing so I rob myself of the advantages of the upgrade.

Trials upgrade us. The version we are needs some additional input to ready me for the next phase of my life. As much as I dislike it, I need it. I can isolate myself from it but to do so robs me of the joy of experiencing God at my deepest level.

Question: When was the last time you upgraded?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is There Joy for Everyone?

Are there some folks whose personalities prevent them from experiencing joy? Can there be such a thing as a joyful Type A person? Can melancholy people ever find joy? What about the Beaver who is so diligent to do everything right? Is joy better suited for less driven, people-person, Golden Retrievers?

I guess the same question could be asked of any gift God gives. Are there some folks who are just wired better for these gifts than others? Like critical people make the best prophets?

What about experiences? What about those people who have had multiple tragedies in their family? What about a person who has been molested, or abused, or attacked? Can they ever expect to find joy?

What about children who lost a parent or experienced the divorce of their parents? What about parents who lost a child in death or rebellion? What about having a parent who showed them no interest? Can they ever expect to find joy?

What about someone who was always compared to a smarter, more talented or athletic sibling? What about the one who tried as hard as they could but only pulled off average results? Can they ever expect to find joy?

What about the person who never felt the security of unconditional love? Or the one who never was good enough? Or was always picked last? Or didn’t get the invitations to the parties everyone else did? Is there any joy for them?

Zephaniah says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”

Sounds like God isn’t testing whether you are worthy of joy, only that, because of the depth of His love, He will demonstrate His own joy for you. If God delights in us, why can’t we consider ourselves capable of delighting in Him. If we will delight in Him, He will give us the desires of our heart. Is that desire joy? Then draw near to Him, for in His presence is the fullness of joy.

Question: Does the question of worthiness ever stop you from enjoying the goodness of God?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It’s Not a Limitation Unless You Make It One

Daniel was ten years old and wanted to take Judo lessons. His parents signed him up and handed him over to his Judo master. After three months the teacher had only taught him one move. Daniel asked if he could learn some additional moves. The master said, “No, that’s the only one you’ll need.”

After several months of perfecting that one move, Daniel was entered in a tournament. He easily won the first two matches but struggled on the third until the other boy came at him. Daniel used his only move and quickly had the boy pinned on the mat. He was now in the finals where the boys are bigger and stronger.

The referee called time out and told his teacher he was afraid Daniel would get hurt in this round. He wanted them to forfeit. The master said, “No, he’ll do fine.”

The bigger boy came at Daniel. In a matter of seconds he had the boy pinned on the mat. Daniel won the tournament.

On the way home he asked his teacher how he won. The teacher said, “The move I taught you is the hardest to learn but has the greatest success. And the only way to defend against it is to grab your left arm.”

By the way, Daniel had lost his left arm in a car wreck a couple of years before.

We are quick to assume our limitations are actually restrictions which make God powerless to accomplish His best in our lives. We've had a set-back, have a condition, don’t meet the requirements, and yet, He says: “Eyes have not seen, nor have ears heard, nor has it even entered into the heart of man what I have prepared for him.”

Doesn’t sound like God is in the least bit affected by limitations.

Limitations are imposed restrictions. Yes, most of them are real, but they are not the end of the story. Just because I cannot do everything I wish I could do, I can do everything God intends for me to do. "I can do all things through Christ..."

I feel a joy dance coming on!

Question: What do you regularly hold up as an obstacle which limits you from enjoying the goodness of God?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Joy Without Limits

We live with limits. We drive within speed limits. We live within city limits. We use equipment that has weight limits. We can only lift so much, run so fast, jump so high, hold our breaths so long. And the older we get the more we discover our limitations list has grown. To compensate, we just pull back and try to live within the boundaries of our abilities.

Unfortunately, we impose those standards on God. We look at our sorrows, our crises, our drama and classify them as beyond God’s ability. Without ever turning them over to Him, we decide He can’t do anything even if we wanted Him to. 

Jesus met a man whose son had a demon. The man had already placed limits on the boy’s condition. He had tried everything he could do and none of it helped. He asked others for help, including Jesus’ disciples, and their help didn’t help. Now he stood before Jesus and said with no confidence, “If you can do anything…”

Speaking to the One whose very words created the earth they stood upon, he challenged Him with the word “if.” If—a word of cynical limitations. I’m not expecting You to be able to do anything either, but if You want a shot at it, here’s my problem. There’s no faith in that statement, no confidence, no trust, no belief that an almighty God is even listening to our prayer, much less engaged in accomplishing what concerns us. Obviously, there’s no joy.

Joy is the outflow of trusting. It is the overflow of a confident life. It is upflow of an inner assurance that we belong to a God bigger than our lives, our problems, our needs. It is the peace that God is walking with me in this night and He’s bigger than the storm.

Putting limits on God robs us of that joy.

Question: What happened in the past that made you place limits on God?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hey, It’s Your Joy, Not Theirs

The Beatles were the thing back then. We kids in the neighborhood would gather around the record player and sing along at the top of their lungs. One day, in the midst of a powerful concert in the living room of one family, one kid looked up at me and said, “You can’t sing.”

Not many things crush the spirit of someone as much as being told you can’t do something you think you’re pretty good at and enjoy doing. A thousand fears ran through my mind. A judgmental chain was hung around my vocal cords. I, who had felt the freedom to let it rip, now was afraid to even hum.

One comment, made by one stupid kid—who had no basis for his opinion but personal preference—shut me down. From then on my public display of delight was over. I had been told my expressions were unacceptable.

How many other statements have we heard that have shut us down? You shouldn’t think that. You’re wrong. You can’t feel that way. How stupid! I knew that would happen if you tried that. I told you you’d fail. You’re going to do what? Stop crying! Maybe you’ll grow out of it. What were you thinking?

Words have great power over us. They get trapped inside our heads and play back at the most inopportune times. Like when we try singing in public again. We’re all prepared, listening to our introduction, ready to share our song, and some kid’s words flash through our mind.

If it works that way in natural matters, how about spiritual ones? Satan is the punk kid telling us lies that discount the faithfulness of God. He reminds us of past struggles, unanswered prayers, unsuccessful resistance to temptations, dark times, unquenched sorrows. He points out disappointments where things just didn’t seem to turn out for good. All in an attempt to keep us from trusting God.

I don’t know how good I ever became at singing. I still struggle at times. But what that kid said in his living room doesn’t stop me anymore. I’ve decided the joy of singing trumps the fear of singing badly. Now, though there may be an audience, I sing to express my deeper joy, not to gain their approval.

Joy is our expression of our confidence in the faithfulness of God. It is not a performance to please a suspicious observer or to demonstrate how good we are at being a Christian. Joy is a statement of what’s going on inside of us. It is our statement, not up for the criticism of others as to whether we are expressing it appropriately or not. So let it rip.

Question: Have you ever sung as though no one was listening?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jumping for Joy

Watching my two-year-old grandson at his birthday party, there were moments when the only thing appropriate for him to do was jump. When Joy overwhelms you, sometimes you just have to give in. At other times you may have to run around in circles. Occasionally you need to dance. Rarely are you impressed to sit quietly as though nothing’s going on. Joy wants expression!

I never was a great dancer. Okay, maybe not even good, but that didn’t stop me from trying. Music does that to you. It makes you move. Whether it’s tapping your toe or patting your hand or drumming on an invisible trap set, when the beat’s pounding you’ve got to respond.

Whenever we hear it and don’t move, something’s wrong. My guess is: we’ve probably had our expressiveness squashed by someone who didn’t think it was appropriate to show Joy publicly. Someone said if you can be calm in a moment like this then you obviously don’t know the severity of the situation. It’s as though there is a highly regulated protocol as to how we’re supposed to act under certain circumstances. 
Showing Joy, for some, would be an insensitive affront to that protocol and reflect poorly on their struggles.

I’m not being insensitive to what others are going through if I don’t get on their level to appreciate the moment. I don’t have to adopt their approach. I can remain faithful to what God is doing. I’m allowed to see things differently.

If you’ve ever tried on someone else’s glasses, you find immediately how they see isn’t how you see. You need glasses made to your prescription not theirs.

When the eyes of our faith see God’s faithfulness in the midst of turbulent times, even if others don’t see it, I have to dance on the updrafts. Wanna dance?

Question: What’s to keep you from getting up and dancing right now?

Monday, February 25, 2013

What Blocks Your Joy?

I’ve only seen one major solar eclipse. The warnings were clear so we looked at it through a hole in one piece of paper allowing the image of what the sun was doing to show up on another.

You could witness the slow dissolving away of our massive energy source, being blocked by something as comparably insignificant as our moon. I had seen examples of that happening and knew what I’d see. What I wasn’t prepared for was the darkness that came over the earth when the sun was fully blocked. It was eerie. It makes sense after experiencing that how more primitive people thought something disastrous was happening or would happen. It was like a shroud being draped across the world.

Now, to take the magic of the moment away, all that happened was the moon got in the sun’s way. It temporarily blocked the light, warmth and comfort of our blazing source of life. The sun never went away, nor did its effect or sufficiency in our lives. It was only temporarily blocked, limiting our experiencing that effect and sufficiency.

Joy can be blocked. Stuff—the great bane of life—gets in the way. That stuff can be anything that for the moment gains my attention and distracts me from what is really important.

My back has gone out. The pain I feel permeates my whole body. I can’t walk, I can’t move, at times I can’t talk. Operations that are so natural that I don’t even have to think about them now are a struggle. The irritation going on inside has blocked out the natural flow of my life.

Whenever we allow stuff to become more important, regardless of how painful or loud or distracting it is, it will block our Joy. As with the eclipse, I will loose contact with that which is vital to my life by focusing on that which is temporary and of lesser value.

We must change our habit of looking directly at the stuff. Instead, look at it through the pinhole where we will see it in perspective and help us focus upon how great our God is to accomplish all that concerns us.

Question: How do you fight the distractions to stay focused on God?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Finding Joy in the Sorrow

One of the most difficult places to find Joy is in our sorrows. Words like “rejoice, consider it joy, blessed are you when…” kind of fall flat on the hearts of those in grief. They are dying inside and the power of their grief cannot be denied. These are legitimate feelings. They cannot act as though what happened wasn’t significant. Grief is the price we pay for loving someone.

In moments like these, Joy isn’t our greatest need. During those times God has something different in mind.
Sorrows need Comfort. When I am in the midst of sorrow I need the warmth of God’s presence as my companion and closest friend. I need Him holding me as we walk through this valley together. When I am overwhelmed, God seeks a different path to restore me.

A famished man doesn’t need an all-you-can-eat buffet. Things have changed inside. His stomach has shrunk. He needs smaller portions to begin the process of restoration.

In sorrow, I don’t need Joy…yet. I haven’t lost the gift within me. Joy is still present but now must take a less-prevalent role. Comfort is what sustains me. His Comfort becomes the light for my darkness. The path back to Joy is still there and I will return to it, but for now Comfort is the grace gift that holds me tight.

Staying on that path is an indication of my confidence in God. That “this too shall pass.” In the meantime, though, I am not sinning by being sad. Even if the sadness returns later. But if I get stuck in my sadness to the point that I deny the work of God bringing me healing and restoring my Joy, there is a point at which that denial becomes doubt which creates a battle within my spirit. I must press on.

Sorrow cries out for Comfort. My tears need wiping, not denying. I need to feel God’s compassion. Out of His Comfort comes Peace. As Peace begins to reign my confidence in Him as being good and accomplishing what concerns me returns, and along with it comes my Joy. I have made it back to my Joy spot once again—that place of trusting Him with all my soul, mind, body and broken heart.

If you carry sorrow, seek His Comfort. If you know His Comfort receive His Peace. When you recognize His Peace, declare your trust. When you declare your trust in Him, your Joy will be restored.

Question: what do you fight that keeps you from Joy?

Monday, February 18, 2013

You Don’t Get Joy From the World

Jesus is a great giver. He gave us His peace. Not as the world gives it, but only as He can. The world gives stuff temporarily and usually with a price attached. In the world nothing’s free.

I downloaded a “free” program to help me unzip files. It came with at least five additional programs that would do other useful things to my computer. These additional programs had a price attached that if I hadn’t been careful would have cost me far beyond the value of the “free” program.

Life does that. It dangles its advantages on the low branches, failing to mention what that one bite is going to cost us big time in the long-run.

And when life isn't draining me due to its cost, it’s shorting me by giving me just enough to make me want more. Like trying to get someone hooked on drugs, the first few are designed to take me captive to the supplier.

When we discover our Joy is already present in our lives, we don’t have to look outside, toward people, places, things to find it. We merely need to focus on the Giver and realize the Joy is in us.

Jesus doesn't give us stuff and then hide it to make a game out of finding it. He places it in easy reach, on the shelf of our spirit, where we can find it whenever we search for it with all our hearts.

It’s like keeping our books in a library. We know where to look, but we have to go into the library to get them. Joy is within us, tied directly to our relationship with Him. If I lack joy, I must go to Him. It will always be there.

And since it comes from Him, the world doesn’t give it to me…and the world can’t take it away.

Question: Been to the Joy spot within your spirit lately?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Joy in the Morning

Ever had a dark night? I don’t mean one when there is no moon or the power’s off in the house. A dark night is when the soul is oppressed. It’s a time when all the lights are on and you feel a blackness gnawing away at your faith.

Supermassive black hole

Things left undone, issues unresolved, problems still on the burner, life tied in knots. Like waiting for your turn in the ER or sitting with a grieving friend or holding a sick baby, it’s a helpless feeling where you realize you have no control but have to stay through till morning.

Darkness, the shadow of despair, casts a heaviness over us that competes with our thoughts and hopes. We doubt what we once knew to be true and start believing things we never even thought about before.

One man wrote: never doubt in the darkness what God has revealed in the light. Truth remains true whether I can see its effect or not. A promise remains a promise. God remains God.

When darkness settles over you realize it’s only for the night. Joy comes in the morning.

Question: How much longer until daybreak?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Can’t Stop a Good Joy When it’s rolling

Paul and Silas were falsely accused, beaten and thrown into a Philippian jail. They were locked in stocks, chained to the floor and treated as criminals. Yet, in the midst of that darkness, stench and misery they sang songs that gave testimony of their great God.

Their circumstances didn’t stop Joy from flowing through their lives.

We are the generation of excuse finders. We search for reasons not to do the right thing at the right time. We blame everything and everybody we can to justify not demonstrating faith. And we often get an approving nod from others who agree, under our circumstances, they’d act the same way.

If you tell a baby to stop acting like a baby and act like an adult, you’d be the foolish one. A baby isn’t an adult and can’t be expected to act like one. If you tell an adult to stop acting like a baby and act like an adult, you’d be within your rights. An adult is expected to act like an adult.

When we’ve discovered the Joy of the Lord deposited within our lives, we cannot go back to live as though it isn’t there. We cannot allow disappointment and discouragement to control us.

Surely Paul and Silas didn’t want to be where they were but that didn’t stop Joy from oozing out of their lives. They didn’t allow their hearts to be dominated by the things they didn’t like. They sang.

The joy they possessed before the prison was the same joy that sustained them in the prison. Because you just can’t stop a good Joy when it’s on a roll.

Question: Ever had Joy show up and surprise you?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Can There Be Any Joy in There?

Two little boys were placed in a room filled with manure. One ran out immediately saying the room was filled with manure. The other stayed…and stayed…and stayed. Finally someone went in to look for him. He stuck his head out of the pile and said, “With all this manure, I’m sure there’s a pony in here somewhere.”

When we look at life, we know that sometimes we’re the pigeon and sometimes we’re the statue. Joy comes easy when we’re soaring, but hard when we’ve been deposited on. We look at the circumstances and all we see is what we wish wasn’t there. Statues rarely feel the Joy.

But the Psalmist wrote: God will accomplish what concerns us. Paul took that idea and said: He who began a good work within us will bring it to fulfillment. He also said: all things work together for the good for those who love God and live within His purpose.

These writers said, in essence, even when you find yourself in a room filled with manure, expect God’s to be in there as well accomplishing His good purpose.

Anticipation of God’s good releases Joy. I don’t have to have everything shoveled out, the room power washed and Fabreezed in order to find Joy. It’s there in the stink of the mess.

When we insist God resolve everything before we can give thanks or acknowledge His goodness, we separate ourselves from our Joy.  In fact, our Joy will be held hostage to our own unwillingness to trust Him.

It is essential that we will believe He is there even when we can’t see Him. That He is active in our lives even when we can’t feel Him. And that He is working this together for good even when we are convinced otherwise.

Question: which little boy are you in the story at the beginning?


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Finding Joy in the Darkness

Where do we expect to find joy?  Sometimes we look for it in other people, thinking we get our joy from relationships. Sometimes we look for it in pleasures—food, toys, places, moments—thinking we get our joy from things. Sometimes we look for it in illicit activity, in things we crave and things that satisfy our lustful desires, thinking we get our joy from satisfying our wants. Happiness, satisfaction, euphoria might show up but Joy comes from the Lord.

Joy is a gift packaged within the greater gift of salvation. We always have it but don’t always embrace it. It doesn’t come to us, it is already there. We don’t ask for it, we acknowledge it.

 Right now, in this moment, we have enough joy inside us to meet our needs and have enough to share with others.

Joy is that calm assurance that God’s got things under control.

When Paul was on the ship to Rome and about to be shipwrecked on Malta, he admitted to the men they would crash but their lives would be spared. He knew this because the night before an Angel appeared to him and told him God’s intentions. That word gave him his calm assurance. Prior to that, like the pagans traveling with him, he expected the worse, now he knew to anticipate the best. Before, all was dark. Now he had light.

We typically don’t like the dark. It creates scenarios filled with unknowns. But in that darkness, when we embrace the truth—that we are not alone and are in fact being accompanied by our God who accomplishes what concerns us—we replace the unknowns with the greatest Known. And our fears are trumped by trust.

Trusting God releases our Joy.

Question: How has the darkness intimidated you into fear?


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Joy When the Juice Runs Low

I have to admit I’m tired. This week follows a fast and furious trip to Haiti. Now that I’m back I’ve got hospital calls to make, benevolence issues to deal with, a funeral to prepare for,  meetings to attend, and a bunch of other stuff. You get the idea. Tired can be draining.

There are a lot of other things that can drain us. Job frustrations, illness, financial strains, family issues, relationships, mood fluxuation, unsuccessful projects or plans, disappointments, failure, sleeplessness. Makes me tired just thinking about it. And it seems all those things can combine or hit individually and disconnect me from my joy.

It’s as if my Joy bucket has sprung a leak or the well has run dry.

If I can’t seem to draw up any joy from the well within my soul, I need a reality check to see if my expectations are getting in the way.

If I expect:

  • Constant happiness,
  • Abundant fun,
  • Unending pleasure,
  • Freedom from hurt,
  • Protection from conflict,
  • Bubble-wrapped from unpleasantness,
I’m going to be disappointed because God never promised the kind of life Joel Osteen preaches.

Jesus said to expect difficulty, but also said to anticipate His peace, presence and joy to accompany the dose of reality unannounced trials will bring. Paul said with the temptation, God will supply the way out or the way to endure.

What drains me is getting disappointed when what I expect isn’t happening. Once I’m disappointed it’s easy to become discouraged when things stay the way they are for an extended period. Depression sets in when I start telling myself this is how it’s always going to be. Finally disillusionment shows up telling me how hopeless things are.

How insensitive to the presence of God I have become to exchange the truth of God for a lie! And how ignorant I am on the topic of joy. Nothing can me of my Joy because it is not a quantity of something I possess but a statement of whose I am.

In fact, nothing can add joy nor take joy away. It is a gift of God. What makes me feel like it has leaked out is my inability to trust God with whatever is going on.

Question: anything oppressing you right now? What are you going to do about it?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Irrepressible Joy

Keeping the lid on something ready to explode isn’t easy. As kids, we’d get baking soda and put it in old medicine bottles, add water, shake and try to hold the lid on. You can’t. The pressure builds up to such an extend it outperforms the strength of your hands trying to hold it back. The mess inside is going everywhere.

Someone once told me if you held a firecracker real tight in your fingers and lit it, it couldn’t explode. They were wrong.

There is a point at which the force within exceeds the power without and an explosion is on its way.

Joy is irrepressible. It cannot be held back. If the abundance of the joy in your life overflows it will begin to show up in your life. Not as a grinning, mindless puddle of don’t worry, be happy—but a strength that shows up in your character, attitude and manners. It even has influence over my speech, whether I complain, grip, whine or seek pity.

Paul described the Fruit of the Spirit in terms of actions that would define your life if the Spirit of God is overflowing from your life. These were characteristics that, if we’re being honest, are not natural to most of us—they need supernatural influence.

“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Joy is on the list. It is one of the evidences that the Spirit of God has a dominate place in our lives. Paul’s argument is: if we are filled to overflowing by the Spirit of God, joy becomes irrepressible. It shows up. We can’t hold it back.

It’s not something we have to work up, or fake, or force out of us. It is evidence we are walking with God.

Question: Have you found times you have been overwhelmed by the Joy of the Lord? Comments?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Indescribable Joy

Ever hit a moment in which you need to describe something but can’t find the right words? All that your senses have taken in mesh into a beautiful picture in your mind but it’s far too overwhelming to explain. I know what I’m trying to say but I just can’t say it. Joy fit into that category.

How can you tell someone you’re okay when, from the outward appearance, your life seems devastated? How can you, in the midst of trials and tests, say I’m doing well? How can you stand up when everyone else’s knees have buckled them to the ground and with confidence say that God’s got this under control?

Paul wrote: “Don’t let your anxieties control you, but instead reconnect to God in prayer, telling Him what’s gripping your life. When you do, you will experience the full measure of God’s peace which will be indescribable. That peace will become like a barrier separating you from your anxious thoughts.” (Phil 4:6-7 loosely paraphrased)

Sometimes words just can’t explain what God is doing in our lives. People only see the outside. They don’t know the source and activity of our Strength. But we know it’s there.

Fortunately, explaining joy isn’t necessary in order to experience joy. I need no formal training, no mentor, guide or teacher telling me what to do. All I need is a willingness to take the raw needs of my life before the God who has the power to exchange what I give Him for the joy of belonging to Him.

How might that interaction go:

US: Father, I’ve got this concern.

GOD: Got it.

US: It’s eating me alive.

GOD: Got it.

US: It’s draining away my joy.

GOD: Got it.

US: I don’t know what to do.

GOD: Got it.

US: Please help me.

GOD: Got it.

US: Will you take it from me?

GOD: I already have.

US: Oh, thanks.

GOD: Don’t mention it.

US: I’m not sure I could even if I wanted to.

And at that moment the peace that brings joy becomes suddenly indescribable.

Question: Have you had a moment when you’ve been so overwhelmed by God’s goodness that you just couldn’t say a word? Comments?

Monday, January 21, 2013

May Your Joy Overflow

The answer to the question—is the glass half full or half empty—depends on whether you are filling or emptying the glass. Just looking at a glass sitting on the counter and deciding which it is, is merely speculation. If you are filling the glass, the halfway point means the glass is half full. If you are emptying the glass, the halfway point means the glass is half empty.

Being half full or half empty is merely a measuring spot to tell me where I am in the process of filling or emptying the glass.

Jesus was full of joy. “So this joy of mine has been made full.” (John 3:29) He wanted His followers to have the same joy. “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11) He told the Father, “I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” (John 17:13)

As with all He gives, His gifts amount to more than meets the need. Paul wrote, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7) Lavishing means He pours abundantly.

He said, “I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10) Not an adequate life, not enough life, not sufficient life, but abundant life.

His intentions are to make sure at any moment we have more than enough joy to compensate for what we’re going through.

Since the fullness of joy is already packaged within the gift of His grace, along with redemption and forgiveness, we possess the treasure at all times. We don’t have to ask for joy. We simply need to let it loose.

In the movie Seabiscuit, the racehorse had been poorly trained. He had been misused and abused by those who didn’t realize his potential. In one scene, the trainer tells the jockey to take him out into the countryside and just let him run. Reason: Seabiscuit had forgotten the joy of doing what he was designed to do.

For us, joy comes when we quit trying to be something we’re not and simply be the child God designed us to be. The starting point is forgetting much that we’ve been told and returning to the basics of loving God with all we are. Getting back to undistracted devotion releases the joy we already contain.

Question: How full is your joy glass today? Comments?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What’s Stealing Your Joy

It doesn’t matter what you have, somebody else would like to have it instead of you. That’s the mystery behind flea markets and garage sales. It’s also the driving force behind theft. Stealers don’t care what it means to you or what it would cost you to replace it, they just want what you have.

Joy Stealers come in various shapes and disguises. They can look just like your best friend, your spouse, your kids, your boss. They can expose themselves through words like: you have cancer, I want a divorce, there’s been an accident. They can linger after words are spoken, deeds are done and wounds are scarred over.

Joy Stealers catch us when we are the most vulnerable—in between a spiritual high and low, during a drought of prayer and Bible reading, when we’ve taken a vacation from seeking God. They sneak in when we are momentarily distracted. But they also show up in the middle of something good.

Most thieves do their work at night or whenever they think they are least likely to get detected. Joy Stealers gain entrance by a whisper, a look or a silent response. In some way a lie was introduced, some suggestion that degraded our sense of God at work in our lives, and we thought about it. As we thought, it began to consume more and more of our attention until it became more real than God is to us, bigger than He is, more powerful than His power.

Watch for these Joy Stealers:

  • Negative people
  • Misguided friends
  • Non-spiritually-minded advisors
  • Faithless observers
  • Downward thoughts
Jesus said, “A strong man, well armed can protect his household, but if he allows in a stronger influence, he can be ransacked.”

We may not be able to completely avoid the Joy Stealers, but we don’t have to give in to their tricks.

Question: What are some Joy Stealers you’ve run into in your life? Comments?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Joy Fibers of His Salvation

When it comes to being saved, salvation is God’s possession not ours. We do not own it, contribute toward it, add to it or take away from it. It is His gift, complete and lacking nothing. If I ever think of it as mine, I will minimize its significance in my life like I do with any possession over which I assume control. It will only have value as long as it is new, fresh and exciting—as long as I consider it a gift.

But as a gift, salvation isn’t a package I open once and enjoy forever, it is a progressive gift that is new every morning and continues its life-change throughout my life.

The Bible writers used specific tenses to make their point when describing salvation. From the tense they used they actually say: we were saved in the past, are being saved in the present and will be saved in the future. It is a complete work at any point but yet there is always more God’s salvation intends to accomplish in me.

A tree is a tree whether it is a sapling or a towering oak. The sapling is still by definition a tree but has far to go before its anticipated growth is reached. And, in fact, it never stops growing.

To keep our gift fresh, God continually weaves it into the tapestry of our lives. One thread He always includes is the Joy fiber. Tapestries are complex with thousands of threads working together to create the details of incredible beauty. So are our lives. They are a composite of moments through which He brings the color and details that best help Him express His goodness in that moment.

Those threads tell the story of everything that happens to us. The Joy fibers make sure our circumstances hold greater value than just the happenstance of life.

  • Fibers of joy that remind me I’m not alone in the darkness
  • Fibers of joy that provide hope when I feel helpless
  • Fibers of joy that comfort me when something precious is taken away
  • Fibers of joy that make me anticipate all God has a future God has planned for me
The salvation I received at eighteen isn’t adequate for what I’m dealing with at this point in my life. I need a freshness that’s like getting the gift all over again. That’s why God made sure to include Joy within the fibers he is weaving into each moment of our lives.

When David prayed God would return to him the joy of His salvation, he didn’t need to get saved again, only to be restored to the freshness of what the gift was there to do in his life in that moment.

Question: When have you found the freshness of God’s gift hidden within a moment of your life? Comment?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Defining Joy

There’s a lot of confusion between joy and happiness. We may use the terms interchangeably but they are not the same. At times they may look alike and may show up at the same time and at the same place, but there are times they simply don’t belong together. Joy can show up in places where happiness just seems inappropriate. James said, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you experience the tough times in life required for you to grow as a believer and expand your understanding of how big God is.” (James 1:2 loosely paraphrased)

Tough times are not typically happy times. But since joy and happiness are not the same thing, you can still have joy when you can’t be happy. I may not like what I’m going through but I can embrace my circumstances as a opportunity to see the goodness of God in my behalf. How?

  • By finding my Joy Spot
  • By realizing God is accomplishing a work in my life
  • By anticipating the results
  • By expressing my thanks to God for taking the time to refine my life
  • By allowing this moment to bless me

The farmer is never closer to the land than when he is breaking it up for planting. Land that has lain dormant from past years is too hard for seeding. It’s a wasteland until the farmer gets out the disk and plows it back to usefulness.

That plowing is violent and brutal but essential for the next phase of planting and the ultimate reward of next season’s crops. The ground isn’t happy to be plowed but submits, anticipating the joy of harvest.

Joy is the warmth of an inner peace that comes when we realize God is accomplishing His purposes in our lives. It is a by-product of trust that we experience when we’re not being distracted by what’s actually going on at the moment.

Question: During what phase of the trial is it hardest to “consider it joy?” Comments?